Archive for December, 2008

Joy and His Presence

Posted: December 31, 2008 in christian growth, Joy

Seriously, I could spend a long vacation in the words of Psalm 16. At first glance, it may seem unrelated to the other two scriptures, but hang in there with me and I promise it’s going to make sense and make us all happy in the end.

READ: Psalm 16; Acts 2:25-28; Luke 1:39-46

Key verses: Psalm 16:8 & 11; Acts 2:25; Luke 1:44-45

Key Principles: 1. The presence of God brings joy – big joy. 2. Intentionally setting Him at the head of our lives, will position us for joy.

From the first verse to the last, Psalm 16 is filled with keys for living. But because my focus is on joy, I will zero in on these two brilliant verses.

“I have set the Lord continually before me

This is an intentional action step and it doesn’t happen automatically or by default. It happens only when we choose to do it. I am doing this in the mornings: I will set Him before me; at the head of my day and the head of my agenda. However, I can clearly see some areas of my life right now where I am still in the lead position and each of those areas are marked by a distinct and dismal lack of joy. But I know that if I will set the Lord in front of these areas, I will know new joy. Also, I love the therefore here – it’s huge: Therefore (because I’ve done these things) my heart is glad and my glory rejoices and my body shall rest and confidently dwell in safety. I’ve talked with so many people recently whose bodies have just shut down under the weight of their circumstances and they’re dealing with stomach upset, ulcers, migraines and anxiety attacks. I’ve felt those things myself more times than I’d like to count. This scripture says, however, that putting God at the head of everything, will cause peace and confidence, even in our flesh-and-blood bodies. That’s a HUGE benefit and a true definition of real joy. (The “how-to” of making Him the boss is coming further down the road in this study.)

Then, the money verse:

You will show me the path of life (direction, vision, purpose, eternity); in Your presence is fullness of joy – at Your right hand there are pleasures forevermore.

God’s presence – His living, active, sought-after presence – brings deep, overflowing joy. And check out this cool New Testament connection: Peter quotes this Psalm in his sermon in Acts on the Day of Pentecost:

Acts 2:25-28 – For David says in regard to Him, I saw the Lord constantly before me, for He is at my right hand that I may not be shaken or overthrown or cast down (from my secure and happy state.)

I love the way it says that: “I will not be overthrown or cast down from my secure and happy state.” That’s unshakable, fearless joy. Peter is even proving this truth by speaking courageously to the same crowd that so recently crucified Jesus…the very crowd that caused him to deny even knowing Jesus just a month or so earlier. Wow – remarkable transformation caused by the joy of His presence.

Finally, I love this tiny Luke verse that just pounds this whole point home. It shows us the picture of two babies reaching out to one another from the womb. One is God-wrapped-in-flesh and the other will prepare the way for His arrival. They meet pre-birth and just that brief brush with the presence of Jesus, causes the former-still-and-silent John to leap for joy. Why is he leaping? I’m willing to bet it’s because he just can’t wait to get out and see Him…get to know Him…grow up with Him. That one brush with the presence of God would never have been enough for John – he was born hungry for more. (Interesting thing: down the road in John’s life – this love for the presence of Jesus is going to be tested and that story is going to deepen our understanding of real, true joy. Seriously, the bible is one big treasure map.)

We have to pursue the presence of God…passionately and purposefully, and the inevitable result will be abundant joy.

Worth Pondering

Are there any places, decision or relationships where I have not set the Lord at the head of my life?

Are there any other gods  that need to go in order to release the real joy of knowing Him?


Joy and the Tale of Two Kings

Posted: December 28, 2008 in christian growth, Joy

While these two stories may look unrelated, I assure you they are a perfect little tag team and essential for our joy project.  There is much treasure to be found as we look beneath the skin of these scriptures and continue to dissect joy.

READ: I Chronicles 15 & 2 Chronicles 15

Key Verses: 1 Chronicles 15:25 & 2 Chronicles 15:14 & 15

Key Principle: The presence of God brings joy that is real, lasting and extravagant.


n I Chronicles 15, we find King David – a man who has wealth, power, women, and a really cool castle – still longing for the presence of God in his city. Aside: isn’t it interesting how those who look like they have everything often have everything but joy?

It’s a long and winding road for him to get to it (you can read that sorry story in I Chronicles 13), but when he does, he is filled with joy. This is not just a little happy outburst – this is whirling, twirling, embarrass-the-wife-and-kids JOY. With this over-the-top display of affection, David sets the example for how God should be greeted (note to self: how do I say hello to God when I see Him?). He demonstrates here that no matter how powerful or important you are, and no matter how many mistakes or death experiences have gotten you to it, finding the presence of God will really and truly saturate your life with joy. A few verses down the road from this story (I Chronicles 16:11) you can almost hear the urgency in his voice as David implores his people to Seek the Lord and His strength; yearn for and seek His face and to be in His presence continually.” These are the words of a man who understands that the presence of God will change despair to hope, death to life, mourning to dancing and sorrow to joy.

This story is so challenging to me and has led me to the conclusion that if His presence doesn’t bring me real, true, soul-deep joy, then I’m not paying enough attention. I cannot allow myself to  focus on the “if only’s” anymore. “I could be happy if only I had more money… more time…more direction….” The presence of God stands alone and is the great joy-giver. If I will set my affection on His friendship, I will know new levels of happiness, health, courage and peace.

The second story is another wonderful example of how a king leads his people to a joy-filled life. When King Asa takes over for his father, he inherits a nation in a big mess (sound familiar?)  In an effort to clean the place up, Asa calls the people to vow that they will pursue God’s presence with their whole hearts and lives (which is exactly what King David had asked the people to do many years and verses earlier in 1 Chronicles 15….see how this all comes together?) In fact, it’s such a core value of the kingdom, that the penalty for violating the oath is death. I’ve worked with teenagers for many years, and I am quite familiar with the way they respond to rigid rules (though I’ve never set any that included the death penalty.) So it seems to me that enacting this law would be like putting a spiritual strait jacket on the whole nation and would be met with weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth; it’s a recipe for revolt. Nope. Quite the contrary. It says in verse 14, “They took the oath with a loud voice and rejoicing and the sound of the trumpets”. An absolute party erupts as these spiritual stragglers regroup and recommit. Seriously, they treat seeking the Lord like winning the lottery and the results are big, big, BIG! Look at these marvelous words:

“He was found by them and the Lord gave them rest and peace all around.”

Oh, so beautiful. That’s a sentence I envy for my own life. How magnificent to truly find the Lord and to experience peace and rest in every direction. I have to be honest and say that right now I don’t have that, but I am believing that as I seek Him with joy, and as I yearn for Him with my whole desire, that He will give me those things in abundance. Oh, I am believing, friend and I’m believing for you, too!

Worth pondering:

  • How do I generally greet the presence of God in my life?
  • What areas in my life need more of the peace and rest of God?
  • Is there any area that I need to recommit to Him today in order make room for His presence in my life?

Next up:  Still more on how the presence of God brings unshakable joy from one of my favorite scriptures EVER.

Choosing joy,


Christmas looks like…

Posted: December 27, 2008 in Uncategorized

Daughters coming home from college…101_0999 …even though she didn’t get to come home for very long because certain forces conspired against her.  Retail, I’m lookin at you and I’m not at all happy.

(Also, here’s my Christmas gift to you – it’s wisdom and it goes like this:  don’t cut your own bangs using scissors from your junk drawer an hour before you speak to a very attractive crowd.  You’re welcome.)

Christmas looks like Maple Parnell dressed in her finest Christmas sweater:


…and trying to drink my cranberry punch right through the glass:


Christmas looks like young love:


And true love:101_10111

And shoe love:


(Um…I know Christmas is all about giving and not about getting but HOW CUTE are these BOOTS? Just one of the many reasons I’m keeping that guy up there…he pays attention, that one.)

Christmas looks like lasting love:

101_1013And sister love:


And First Love:


I hope your New Year is filled with the peace, presence and hope of first love.


Bo & family

Merry Christmas

Posted: December 24, 2008 in Uncategorized


Dear friends,

Oh, what a year! It was fun and blessed and challenging and hard and all kinds of adjectives in between, but we’re really thankful for the gift of 2008. Here’s a little review:

Corey and Whitney – our oldest daughter celebrated two years of wedded bliss to her beloved, Corey Parnell. She loves her job working for a neurosurgeon. She’s learning a lot, but not quite ready to do brain surgery just yet. Corey works part time at our church, part time for a graphic design firm and is pursuing his calling with the band, Elliot. Their CD is fantastic and so I’m going to shamelessly plug it in my Christmas letter – please don’t turn me in:  I’m only doing this because I love you.

Tori – graduated high school in June and hit the road for college in August. She’s attending our alma mater, Portland Bible College, and loving it a lot. We love her a lot, so we’re sad that Portland stole her from us, but we’ll all be okay.

Tess – busy, busy girl, this one. Volleyball and pursuit of academic excellence (we don’t know where this comes from either) have dominated her life this year. The volleyball thing has also dominated our lives since Oregon still will not give driver’s licenses to 13-year-olds.

Josiah is 8 and fun. We like him in about a million different ways.

Steve – is still on staff at Westside Church as the Life Development pastor. He made us all very happy this year by putting just less than one million Christmas lights in the trees in our yard. Many other things make him fantastic, but this one is fresh in my mind.

Bo – I’m also on staff at Westside. Fun job + fun people + the chance to change the world = happy me.

We didn’t take any big trips this year or remodel our home or buy a boat. Our big accomplishment was actually keeping our commitments to eat dinner together most nights and to not yell at other drivers. These things make us feel successful and so we’re hanging onto them and putting them in our Christmas letter for your enjoyment.

So, wherever this year finds you and wherever next year takes you, please know that we love you and are thankful for your friendship in our lives. May you know without doubting the overwhelming love of Jesus in your heart and home this season.

Because of Him,

The Stern Family

P.S. All of us can be found on Facebook – except Josiah who’s more of a Club Penguin guy. We’d love to hear from you!

Who’s the Boss of Joy?

Posted: December 22, 2008 in christian growth

Here’s Day One of my JOY Study…it’ll give you a little idea of how it’s rolling along for me.  This is just a small portion of a three-page journal entry, there’s just so much to be discovered in all these scriptures about joy.  I’ll post the reading for the rest of the week on the page marked JOY (soon) and then you can start your own wonderful journey to a transformed mind.  This study is quickly changing my life, so…yay, Joy!

Finding Joy – Day One

READ: I Kings 1; 1 Chronicles 12; Psalm 16:4; Proverbs 29:2

Key verses: I Chr. 12:38; I Kings 1:39 & 40

Key principle: Joy comes from living under the right leadership.

Thoughts:  When I know that I am going to represented, respected and protected by my ruler, my life really can’t go wrong.  I get to walk in safety and security.  If I think that my leader is incompetent – or worse – corrupt, then my peace will almost immediately vaporize.  Without peace, joy is going to be nearly impossible to find.

The identity of my leader – and the depth of my trust in him – is going to determine so much about whether or not I have joy in my life.

I’m so grateful today that my life does not rest in the hands of the Democrats or Republicans.  I pray for our president and leaders, but – ultimately – I am living under the rule of the great King of all.  He is my shepherd; leading and providing and loving me to safety and success.  He is my counselor; sharing wisdom and insight for times of doubt and confusion.  He is a King who can be trusted.

I have to wonder:  if I am discouraged and groaning under the weight of my circumstances, have I really truly set Him in as leader over my life?  If joy is elusive and difficult to nail down, it’s generally not because of the president or my boss at work or my husband or anyone else with authority in my life – it’s because I have set myself in as ruler and king.  And I am seriously unqualified for the job.

For me, today – Day One of this pursuit of JOY – I am blasting the trumpet and announcing the appointment of a King.  I am setting Him into authority and asking Him to create a safe, peaceful and prosperous land out of my life.  I am promising not just to follow and obey – but to love and communicate with Him.  I am committing to real relationship with my real ruler.

And I hope that people far and near can hear and see my good news.  I hope that the land around me resounds with the noise of His victory in my life.

Long live the King!

Things I’m mulling over…

Posted: December 20, 2008 in Uncategorized
  • The likelihood of snow on Christmas
  • The location of my gift receipts
  • The possibility that my wrapping paper will stretch and NO trip to Target will be required
  • The “thank you for your support” note I received from Barack and Michelle Obama.
  • The origin of the Three Wise Men
  • The price of gas (woo-hoo!)
  • This question: will my family like or loathe cornbread stuffing?
  • And also: Why-oh-why haven’t I studied JOY before?
  • And finally:  How do orphans celebrate Christmas with no mom to buy them presents and make them cornbread stuffing?

Me and the cider, we’re both mullin’,


P.S.  I really am working on getting some posts from the JOY study up…thanks for your kind reminders.    I’m honestly behind on about one million things right now but  I’m looking forward to a week off after Christmas and plan to get all my books read, blogs written, children loved, baseboards cleaned, orphans fed and bills paid.  That seems realistic, doesn’t it?

I promised the Puttanesca

Posted: December 17, 2008 in Uncategorized

Recently on Facebook, a brouhaha (of sorts) erupted because I posted a status update that said I was making Pasta Puttanesca.  It’s a Stern family favorite, but lots of people were like “Putta-wha?”  So I promised that when the dust settled in my kitchen, I would post the recipe.  Then, I got hit with the Great Plague of 2008 and didn’t do it.  Finally, so as not to be a scoundrel or a scaliwag (why does this dish bring this out in me?), I shall do as promised:

Background:  Puttanesca is the Italian word for “prostitute”.  It’s believed that the dish got it’s name because the ladies of the evening used to make the sauce and put it in the windows of their businesses. They understood that the way to a man’s heart is most certainly through…pasta.  You can include many different kinds of meat, but the magic is in the sauce itself.  It has such fragrant, vibrant ingredients and is really quite easy and inexpensive to make.  Puttanesca is characterized by core ingredients of: anchovies (don’t be afraid of them – they melt into the background and they MAKE this sauce), capers, red peppers, garlic,  tomatoes and olives.  I love basil and artichokes, so I toss those in there as well.  Make it for your beloved this week.  Even if you hate pasta, it makes for an interesting dinner conversation!

Pasta Puttanesca:

  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • 3 cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1 tin anchovy fillets or 1 Tbsp. anchovy paste (which is cheaper and stretches farther)
  • 1/2 – 1  tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
  • 20 black olives, coarsely chopped
  • 3 Tbsp. capers (oh, how I ADORE capers, but they’re only cost-effective at Costco)
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes (the non-poisoned kind)
  • 1 can diced tomatoes, drained
  • A healthy amount of cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil
  • 1 pound spaghetti, cooked al dente
  • Grated Parmesan

Heat a large skillet over medium heat and add oil, garlic, anchovies, and crushed pepper.  Saute mixture until anchovies melt into oil and completely dissolve and garlic is tender, about three minutes.  Add olives, capers, tomatoes, black pepper, and basil.  Now, stop and take note of the fragrance in your kitchen and you’ll understand why this sauce was such a moneymaker for those Puttanesca’s!  Bring sauce to a bubble, reduce heat and simmer 8-10 minutes.  I also love to add about a cup of artichoke hearts and cooked italian sausage, but I’m not going to force my beliefs on you. Toss sauce with cooked pasta and throw some parmesan on top and you, my friend, are one sassypants kitchen hero!



P.S.  Special note to Katie Arney:  you did the research, now make the sauce!  I’m expecting to hear that you made the sauce…then you can write a review on Wikipedia!